Caretaker P.M. should respect impartiality of O.E.C.

Having only recently celebrated Mother’s Day we can only hope that our leaders would have used the long weekend to step back and take stock of all recent political developments.

The last three weeks have been embarrassing to say the least and some of the decisions that were made by the Office of the Electoral Commission and the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II following the 9 April general election is now the subject of Supreme Court proceedings.

The O.E.C. is one of the parties to the Supreme Court applications filed by the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. 

But the fact that the office is now a party to a critically important Supreme Court proceeding – which could very well decide the future of this nation as a democracy – hasn’t stopped caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi from going ahead with plans to replace O.E.C. polling officials who ran last month’s polling with Government Ministries assistant chief executive officers and chief executive officers.

Tuilaepa confirmed that the O.E.C. will change the procedure and put in place Government-employed executives as officials for the upcoming election tentatively scheduled for 21 May (C.E.O. election officials “not right”: Fiame) 

He then rubbished claims of “conflict of interest” in the appointment of chief executive officers and assistant chief executive officers, saying those who were previously in those positions during the 9 April general election didn’t understand the electoral processes and there were “a number of issues” last month which warranted their replacement.

It is another example of the caretaker Prime Minister making decisions that could raise questions about the integrity of the whole electoral process. 

So where is the Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio and why is Tuilaepa making decisions for him?

Doesn’t the caretaker Prime Minister care about the independence and impartiality of the O.E.C. and its systems and processes?

And why hasn't the senior membership of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) intervened and ask their leader to restrain himself from toying around with constitutional offices that are currently the subject of a court proceeding?

It is not surprising political rivals are now asking why the leader of the H.R.P.P. is attempting to restructure an office that is supposed to be independent and impartial.

F.A.S.T. party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has expressed concerned about the eleventh-hour restructuring of the O.E.C. by the caretaker Prime Minister on the eve of another general election (though dependent on the ruling of the Supreme Court). 

“This is all based on what Tuilaepa is demanding. And it is not right,” said Fiame in an interview with the Samoa Observer. 

“The election process is governed by law and it is a clear [conflict of interest] given the polling stations will be manned by Government officials which of course [are] under the H.R.P.P.; what does that say."

We are surprised that it hasn’t dawn on the caretaker Prime Minister that his decisions of late in relation to the operations of the O.E.C. is a blatant attempt to usurp the powers of the Electoral Commissioner.

And the ordinary people have had enough of all the confusion that the caretaker Government has made following the 9 April general election – through the decisions of the O.E.C. officials as well as the Head of State – through the addition of a woman candidate as a Member-elect and the revoking of the election last month which are all now being questioned in court.

Talk to random people in the community and they will tell you how they found the Head of State’s declaration of defeated H.R.P.P. candidate Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau – as Samoa’s sixth women Member-elect – at 9.34pm on Tuesday 20 April through the O.E.C. Facebook page so unusual due to its timing and brazenness that they joke at how the ruling party tried to steal the election at night.

So what is wrong about respecting the rule of law and allowing the process to take its course at the Supreme Court to decide on a pathway forward?

Everyone wants a resolution to this political impasse, which has become a full blown constitutional crisis over the last three weeks, due to the decisions of certain individuals.

Our democracy continues to evolve and it is obvious that some of the country’s 58-year-old pillars need revisiting, in order to ensure Samoa’s Constitution in future is able to cater for and provide resolution for a myriad of challenges, including political party deadlocks that could arise following general elections.

But for now the caretaker Prime Minister owes it to the people of this nation to step back and avoid actions, which could be seen as impinging on the independence and impartiality of the O.E.C. and await the outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings.

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